Monday 31 July 2023

Tori Amos

Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She's now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.

People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is "Under the Ivy", which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn't her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in "Watercolors" has some of Amos' anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them.

Janis Joplin and Bjork throw themselves into their songs. Amos sometimes does too, in her own way. The tremble in her voice may be an act, but sometimes I wonder if she's going to get to the end of a song in one piece.

How much are my judgements affected by the fact that I'm a heterosexual male? Pass. My favourites are "Hey Jupiter", "Baker Baker", "Winter", "Icicle", and "Precious things". "i i e e e" from "Live Sessions 1998" showcases her singing and playing. "Putting the Damage on" is sometimes earwormy. I'm not so keen on "Crucify", "Pretty good year" or "Cornflake girl" though they show her versatility. And I like most of her covers too.

All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like "Speaking with Trees" sound like re-hashes. I'd rather have a new rendering of "Precious things". Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they're not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks - I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.

I've read Janis Ian's autobiography, which I found interesting. She was praised on TV by Leonard Bernstein when she was about 16. She's one of the few live acts I've seen. She wrote that when she first heard Don McLean's "Starry, starry night" she played it dozens of times non-stop thinking it the most perfect song ever. I recall having a crush on that song too. I've read a biography of Joni Mitchell, and I liked that. I've not read an Amos book yet, though I'm looking out for one.

Monday 24 July 2023

Writers HQ

I've noticed that several recent prose prizewinners have something in common - they belong to UK-based WritersHQ - You can use many of their resources without joining them - e.g.

Donations are welcomed, though joining needn't cost anything - the reason for joining is that passing stories around for comment by members count as "private communication" so they can subsequently be sent out to magazines/competitions. Joining also gives you access to "Swipe Write for beta readers" - a way to find like-minded writers to swap stories with.

They run "retreats" too. For example, in Milton Keynes one Saturday a month, 10-4, there's a gathering (no workshopping or teaching, just a chance to claim some "me time") for £45 (which includes lunch and bottomless coffee).

If you want professional support, see - one option is an 8,000 word critique + Zoom session costing £250.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Flash Fiction Festival, 2023

I liked last year's conference so much that I went again this year, seeing many people I've met before. When I set off at 5.30 on Saturday morning for Bristol, I saw a snail on the car roof - an omen of weather to come. After a useful day of workshops I slept in my tent while a storm raged, waking in a puddle, and having to do some bailing. On Sunday I went to more workshops that showed me how much I need to improve my close reading. I read at the launch of "51 and a half games and ideas for writers with example responses".

The books I got were "51 and a half games and ideas for writers with example responses" (Vanessa Gebbie), "Scratching the Sands (NFFD anthology 2023)", "Other household toxins" (Christopher Allen), "The yet unknowing world" (Fiona J.Macintosh), and "with one eye on the cows (Bath Flash Fiction Volume 4)". There were well over a dozen novella-in-flash books at the bookshop - a growth sector.

Friday 14 July 2023

A few acceptances and many submissions

I'm ticking over at about 1 a month. Recently there's been

  • Side effects (And other poems)
  • Pick-up (Flashflood)
  • "A promising writer" (Flash) in "51 and a half games and ideas for writers" (Vanessa Gebbie)

In the post I have -

  • 9 Stories, 3 of them in competitions. I think my best stories remain unpublished so I'll keep plugging away.
  • 9 Flashes. Unlike the stories and poems, most of these were written in the last year.
  • 12 Poems. Most of these go back a long way - decades even.